Food allergies: Rare but risky


Injectable epinephrine is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone also known as adrenaline. For treatment of an anaphylactic reaction, it is injected directly into a thigh muscle or vein. It works directly on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, causing rapid constriction of blood vessels, reversing throat swelling, relaxing lung muscles to improve breathing, and stimulating the heartbeat.

Epinephrine designed for emergency home use comes in two forms: a traditional needle and syringe kit known as Ana-Kit, or an automatic injector system known as Epi-Pen. Epi-Pen's automatic injector design, originally developed for use by military personnel to deliver antidotes for nerve gas, is described by some as "a fat pen." The patient removes the safety cap and pushes the automatic injector tip against the outer thigh until the unit activates. The patient holds the "pen" in place for several seconds, then throws it away.

While Epi-Pen delivers one premeasured dosage, the Ana-Kit provides two doses. Which system a patient uses is a decision to be made by the doctor and patient, taking into account the doctor's assessment of the patient's individual needs.


Hugh A. Sampson, M.D., and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD., published a study of anaphylactic reactions in children in the Aug. 6, 1992, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study involved 13 children who had severe allergic reactions to food: Six died, and seven nearly died. Among the study's conclusions:

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